Pamphlet Review: The People’s Democracy: Old nonsense from a new quarter

One of the problems confronting the Socialist movement in its efforts to bring an understanding of Socialism to the working class is the number of organisations that spread confusion about the meaning of Socialism.


In Northern Ireland, for example, apart from the N.I. Labour Party, whose particular brand of “socialism” is the difference between a Development Commission and a Development Corporation —embellished, of course, with love of the Queen and the Constitution—and even, for a period, nebulous support of the infamous Special Powers Act—and the Communist Party whose conception of “socialism” is reflected in petty demands for reform and admiration for the brutal totalitarianism of their adopted state-capitalist motherland, we have a number of peculiar “socialist” and “socialist” organisations.


There is the political ignoramous Gerry Fitt and his personal political circus, ever ready to jump on on any bandwagon of prejudice or ignorance to milk a few working class votes. His party, the “Socialist” Republican Party, is a mere anti-Unionist group that pays lip service to the more vulgar ideas of the late James Connolly—insofar as those ideas are compatible with the prejudices of their Catholic supporters; indeed, they fearlessly avoid mention of any of Connolly’s statements attacking religion and its “sacred” institutions.


These organisations render considerable service to capitalism; they help to maintain the fog of working class ignorance on which capitalism depends for its continued existence and in that they confuse the workers as to the nature of the alternative which Socialism proposes.


The tragedy is that many of the sincere and enthusiastic workers who subscribe to the fallacious reasoning of these “socialist” organisations get so involved in their complex political fetishes, and its attendant vocabulary, that they become bitter opponents of Socialism — except as it relates to their ideas of “knocking the system” or promoting their pet reform.


In Northern Ireland we are now seeing the growing claims to Socialism of the Peoples Democracy and especially in a recent pamphlet Struggle in the North by one of the leaders of that organisation, Mike Farrell.


The Peoples Democracy is an organisation made up of all types of anti- Unionist, anti-establishment elements. Generally, they are young workers and students at varying levels of discontent with various facets of the system. Particularly, they are the political hot-gospelers of the different “leftist” creeds earnestly endeavouring to inject their various, and conflicting, ideas into the movement. The ideological umbrella of the movement is “action now” and the objective is a contradiction in terms known as a “Socialist Workers’ Republic”.


If we admitted to a degree of comparison in the forces that confuse the working class in its nebulous groping towards Socialism we should undoubtedly acknowledge that the PD is head and shoulders above the Labour parties, the ‘communists’ and the Fitt circus in their partial understanding of the situation and, indeed, we do recognise the courage and earnestness of purpose which the PD has shown in its opposition to the bigots and patriots at both ends of the Northern Ireland political spectrum.


Until a short time ago, when the organisation adopted the practice of having a card-carrying membership (at a disputed “suggested” fee of four shillings—later revoked), it was a loosely knit body. In these circumstances it was difficult to indict PD on the statements made by those claiming membership of that organisation with whom we have come in contact. The re-telling of faction struggles may be precocious and the revolutionary romantics may be for amusement only. We consider it fair, however, to discuss PD within the context of Farrell’s pamphlet which is an official PD publication. The pamphlet tells, accurately enough, the facts of the recent violence in Northern Ireland and advances the case for PD.


If we allow for the imposed brevity of a short pamphlet, Farrell’s analysis of the economic background to Partition and the use of religious bigotry as an instrument of policy by the political handmaidens of capitalism in Northern Ireland in 1912 and after — in their anxiety to preserve direct access to the British market—is correct in its essentials.


Perhaps his republicanism defeats a more penetrating analysis of the motives of the Southern capitalists and their political servants in side-tracking the working class of southern Ireland into a patriotic struggle. He simply tells us that “The Home Rulers were anxious to put tariffs on British imports coming into Ireland to facilitate the development of Irish industry”. He does not tell us that Sinn Fein were similarly anxious about the affairs of the rising native capitalists—a concern expressed thus by one of their leaders Griffith:


  No possibility would be left as far as (Sinn Fein) were concerned for a syndicate of unscrupulous English capitalists to crush out the home manufacturer and the home trader (The Sinn Fein Policy, 1917)

Nor does Mr. Farrell remind us that the “Irish industry” concerned was the concrete preserve of the southern capitalist class who owed nothing to their Northern counterparts in the matter of viciousness and contempt for the working class.


As in all national struggles, the working class were being used by the economically dominant class to win victories for their masters. True, the workers did not see the struggle in that light, indeed a few may, like Mr. Farrell and the PD, have subscribed to indefinite concepts of an equalitarian society, but because they lacked understanding of the nature of capitalism and the only alternative to that system, Socialism, they were easy prey for the chauvinistic smokescreen of those whose real purpose was their stake in the exploitation of the working class in southern Ireland.


Mr. Farrell agrees that the basis of discrimination is the economic system, capitalism. If this is so, and the World Socialist Party has continually advanced this view, if capitalism causes discrimination, is it not futile to lead the working class into a struggle against discrimination on the assumption that it can be ended within capitalism? Is it not dangerous folly to lead the workers into such a struggle, which inevitably means taking sides and creating the climate for fratricidal strife within the working class?


On the whole question of discrimination, however, Farrell is on shifting ground. Rightly he tells us that the privileges allegedly enjoyed by the Protestant workers are largely illusionary and the few examples that he gives devastates argument to the contrary. This is the line of approach which the WSP has continually put on the question of discrimination. Later, however, we find the pamphlet rebuking those “moderates” who “. . . fail to understand that by REMOVING discrimination in jobs and housing they are removing a buffer which has shielded the Protestant workers from the worst effects of the economic situation” (our emphasis). The error is repeated when we are told that the apparatus of discrimination is being dismantled—despite the fact that what Farrell admits to be its cause, the economic system, remains!


Long before October 1968 the WSP was arguing that discrimination in Northern Ireland was on class and not religious lines. We pointed out that Catholic members of the capitalist class had no problems in the matter of jobs and houses and that they enjoyed the same multiple voting rights as their Protestant counterparts. Protestant members of the working class, on the other hand, faced the same problems as their Catholic class brethren. True, some political flunkeys in the lower echelon of Unionism were ‘rewarded’ with a house or job which, because they were members of the working class they needed—the fact that their need, by some odious order of capitalist priorities, was less pressing than someone else is simply an indictment of the class system that makes such priorities necessary. The very limited extent of such “privilege” is amply demonstrated by Farrell’s striking examples of squalor and misery in the most vociferously “loyal” of all the Protestant areas. Thus, in the exclusively Protestant Shankill Road area of Belfast 96 per cent of the “homes” have no hot water, bath or wash-hand basin and have only an outside toilet. In the 83 per cent Protestant Ballymena Rural Council area 55 per cent of the houses have no toilet of any kind and 47 per cent no running water. We would venture to suggest that if similar statistics are available for other Protestant areas, such as Sandy Row and Ballymacarret, they would be equally evident of misery and squalor.


Of course Unionist leaders, while publicly disavowing the practice, quietly nourish the notion among their Protestant supporters that they enjoy real privileges and when bodies like the Civil Rights Association and the PD approach the question on the same premise they merely help to concretise the fiction and, hence, the fears of Protestant members of the working class. Inevitably the struggle “against discrimination” becomes a sectarian-orientated clash between Catholic and Protestant workers on the relative claims of each for jobs and housing. So, in fact, the CRA and the PD, insofar as they equated religion to class, played the Unionist Party’s game and gave vicious teeth to the tiger of Unionist bigotry.


Farrell advances Lenin’s failed “imperialist” thesis and wrongly ascribes the plight of the workers in Ireland to British imperialism rather than capitalism.


Farrell pledges PD to support of the struggle for an Irish “Socialist Workers’ Republic” without in any way indicating what is meant by “Socialist”. It could be that closer scrutiny of the meaning of the term is deliberately avoided in order to facilitate unity among the factions and potential factions within PD or, equally likely, it could be the misuse of the term to indicate national state capitalism. Whatever Farrell means by Socialist—and he insists that only “genuine Socialists” can win the Protestant workers—he appears to feel that the Catholic workers are closer to it than the Protestants. For example, in the struggle leading up to its achievement, he tells us:


  There is another way. Pressure must be maintained to make sure the reforms are implemented, but as they are, Catholic workers will realise that they are largely hollow and don’t solve the problems of unemployment and homeless families. At the same time Protestant workers must have it explained to them that the reason for the shortage is not the Catholics but the economic system (our emphasis)


Farrell tells us that there is “no point in trying to trick the Protestants” but surely the above not only exposes his notions on the relative proximity of Catholic and Protestant workers to what he deems to be Socialism but, also, that PD’s programme of immediate reforms are calculated to trick workers of all denominations and none. On the one hand, PD brings workers out on the streets in support of reforms; now they tell us the Catholics will “realise” these reforms are “hollow” and don’t affect their basic problems and Protestants will have it “explained” that the real problem is the economic system. Oh, the perils of “leadership”!


No reform could be more hollow than the solution of our problem proposed by the PD and Farrell and blessed by the holy name of the patron saint of Irish reformers, James Connolly. As we have noted, that solution is an Irish “Socialist” Workers’ Republic.


Capitalism is a world wide system in which the social labour of the world’s workers is harnessed to the profit-making activities of the capitalists through the medium of the wages-money system.


Socialism, the only alternative to capitalism, is a world-wide system which will avail of the wealth-producing techniques of social labour in order to produce the wealth required in a system of social distribution in terms of “from each in accordance with his mental or physical ability; to each in accordance with his needs”. Since social class is determined by the relationship in which people stand to the means of wealth production, and since in Socialism, all will stand in the same relation to these means, classes, including the working class, must obviously disappear—hence the expression “Socialist Workers’ Republic” is, as we say, a contradiction in terms. The sort of contradiction, indeed, that results from a lack of understanding not only of Socialism but of capitalism too.


It is not possible for one country alone to leap forward into Socialism in a capitalist world. Even if we follow the fanciful thinking of PD to the extent of allowing their hypothesis that the “Irish people” could organise “Irish” industry in the “National” interest, even if we don’t press the point that wage- labour and capital are two sides of the same relation, the absurdity of the proposition becomes immediately obvious. The “Socialist Workers’ Republic” would have to carry on production of commodities (wealth produced for sale and profit); that would require the import of raw materials from the capitalist world and would require the export of its produce to pay for such imports. Obviously, therefore, the mood of capitalism would have more control over its republicans.


Richard Montague